Duck and Cover
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Films and TV
Duck and Cover is a civil defense film from 1951 that was shown to elementary school students well into the late 1960s and maybe later. It stars "Bert the Turtle", who knows to duck inside his shell as soon as a monkey threatens him with a firecracker.[Note 1]
According to the film, hitting the dirt and covering yourself with a newspaper in case of a nuclear attack will protect you just as much as a turtle shell protects against a firecracker.
Of all the civil defense films made in the 1940s-1960s, this is probably the best known because it was so widely shown to schoolkids and because, at face value, it is incredibly stupid. The rationale behind the film's civil defense advice is solid to a certain degree: bomb shelters, walls and even flimsy protection like picnic blankets offer good protection against the pressure wave, the weaker forms of ionising radiation, and the outer extent of the thermal pulse when you are far from the explosion's hypocenter. The film's advice seems mostly aimed at preventing flash blindness, standing people being hurled into the air by the blast wave, and facial injuries from flying debris such as glass from blown-out windows in the outer areas of the weapon's effect: this would mean fewer survivors rendered unable to evacuate themselves by blindness or broken bones. Of course, there is a zone of near-total destruction in the immediate vicinity of the hypocenter (which also grew larger with the development of hydrogen bombs), and following the film's advice also offers no protection against radiation and fallout. Therefore, perhaps the biggest problem in the film isn't the factual accuracy, but the fact that when a lot of important caveats were omitted, the end result is nonsensical – a lesson for everyone in the field of science communication and popular science writing.
Surviving an actual nuclear attack takes a lot more than simply duck and covering. According to Ready.gov (a real emergency management website run by qualified personnel), you should do the following: get into a sturdy building with few windows, go into the basement of said building away from outer walls, wear a mask to help prevent inhaling radioactive particles (some did not learn from a specific event), have a battery powered/hand crank radio with extra batteries, seal cracks in your shelter to prevent exposure to radiation, do not go outside until help arrives and have an emergency kit. .
There is also an element of security theater to the video, in that it is clearly aimed at making people feel like they would not be completely helpless in the event of a nuclear strike.
The film was hilariously parodied in the South Park episode "Volcano".
For those interested, there is a complete website devoted to the civil defense mania of the 1950s.
- The monkey, evidently, represented the Soviet Union. Except the monkey basically seems to be willing to get obliterated in the process. Make of that what you will.